Potomac School Breaks Ground on Athletics and Community Center

The Potomac School’s traditional opening assembly in September was a sea of white hard helmets as the entire student body and faculty donned the hats to celebrate the groundbreaking for the McLean school’s new Center for Athletics and Community.

Ranked by Niche.com as currently the top private high school in Virginia, the K-12 institution opens each school year with seniors and kindergartners hand-in-hand in procession, along with welcome remarks and presentation of Potomac’s Excellent Teacher Award. This year the 1,050-strong student body was also treated to some ceremonial dirt shoveling in honor of the project that got underway in July.

Another Jewel for the Sparkling Campus

The 76,500-square-foot project is likely to be another jewel on the sparkling 90-acre campus which has seen many renovations and additions in the past 30 years. Designed by the firm CannonDesign and being built by Coakley & Williams, the center is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2019.

The project includes a gym with an indoor jogging track, seven squash courts, one regulation basketball court, three practice courts, cardio room, weight room, and multipurpose activity room as well as flexible meeting spaces.

Obviously the project will benefit the school’s 72 teams competing across 26 interscholastic sports but the meeting space is just as important as currently the school’s auditorium holds 470, or less than half of the school’s student body. Large assemblies are held outdoors but with the opening of the new center, inclement weather will no longer stop the entire school from meeting.

This is just the latest in a series of projects for the school with a campus that boasts three libraries, a performing arts center, woods, ponds, streams and gardens. Average class size is just 17 students in the lower grades and 15 students from 7th grade and up. They are taught by a faculty where 71 percent have advanced degrees.

The Potomac School: Rich in History

The Potomac School was established in 1904 in Washington, D.C. but didn’t move to McLean until the 1950s.

Ellen Warder Thoron, Edith Draper Blair, and Fairfax Harrison founded the school at Dupont Circle in 1904 with 48 students enrolled from ages 4 to 12.

Interestingly, Lucy Madeira, who founded The Madeira School in McLean in 1906, was the first professional head of the Potomac School in 1908 and, at that time, director of both schools.

The school purchased 55 acres of land from Ward Kirby in McLean in 1948 for $42,506. In 1950 construction began on the McLean campus with the new school opening in 1951 in a bucolic cow-pasture setting.

The first co-ed class graduated from 9th grade in 1965.

In 1986 the Upper School addition began amid $7 million worth of campus improvements leading to the first Upper School graduation of 41 students in 1990.

About a decade later,a school-wide $8 million construction campaign added a performing arts center and new on-campus road system. The school may not look like its been in McLean since the 1950s since a New Upper School was opened in 2006 and a New Lower School opened in 2009.

Tuition runs from $35K to more than $40K.

Notable alumni include:

  • Billionaire and eBay online auction site founder Pierre Omidyar
  • Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy.
  • Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine).
  • World-renowned rock climber, Sasha DiGiulian, who has climbed over 30 First Female Ascents as well as 8 significant First Ascents.
  • Producer and director Davis Guggenheim, who has credits from from ER to 24 plus Oscar-winning documentaries.
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